Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s continuing series about life and love among astronauts and aeronautic engineers working on the American space program in the 1960’s continues with Free Fall, a charming entry about an emerging society girl and the up and coming astronaut who impregnates her.
Vivian – Vivvy – Muller, college student and sorority member, is determined to break away from the expectations of her stifling mother and rich father. When she meets Dean Garland, a pilot and the youngest astronaut working on the program, at a crowded house party, he is charmed by her laugh and she is charmed by his forward flirtation – talk of astronomy becomes a pick-up line, and she agrees to go to his place.
Two months later, Dean learns from his superior that Vivvy is the daughter of a prominent defense contractor upon whom funding for the program depends – and that she’s pregnant. When her parents find out, they begin planning a wedding with the intention of choosing a suitable groom themselves, but Dean immediately offers to do the right thing. He and Vivvy elope in reaction to the social pressure and frosty differences between the highfaluting Mullers and Dean’s down-home father, but their attempt at making a nest in Dean’s unfurnished home causes friction. Will the two of them battle through their faults – a nine year age difference, Dean’s tendency to get caught up in his work, the pregnancy and Vivvy’s total domestic inexperience – and complicated work problems to find true love?
Free Fall is a sweet, sit-com-ish and very nice way to pass a pleasant summer afternoon; it’s traditional but also very tender. Its characters are familiar, but not in an obnoxious way; they’re a lot of fun to watch grow as the plot goes on.
Vivian is delightfully sarcastic, with a funny, sixties-style bubblegum scrawl to her written voice. Caught between girlhood and adulthood, she begins to develop into a well-rounded person with a social circle she can depend upon, and with that she becomes someone more complete as she moves into adulthood.
Dean – still battling grief from the too-young death of his mother – overcompensates for a sense of isolation with taciturn macho shows of bluntness, but he’s a great hero, a mix of brash and tender that Vivian slowly and determinedly unearths.
There’s a lot of good self-depreciating give-and-take in their romance, with a winning charm and occasional flashes of both whimsy and deeper, more tender and swoonworthy moments of romance. Neither Vivvy nor Dean fall into those pitfalls that often belabor heroes and heroines of the period; they feel real even though they also feel like sitcom confections. This is no insult toward them – the novella as a whole feels like a breezy delight.
As always, Barry and Turner’s research into 1960s space engineering proves to be excellent; they have a good grasp on the mores of the time and the sort of technical prowess necessary to go into space. The portions of the tale about Dean’s preparatory work and his eventual space flight are incredibly suspenseful.
I will admit that this book does omit the double-sided workplace conflicts and tensions that were interesting to read in earlier Barry/Turner works. But there’s nothing wrong with a look at life on the domestic front, and Free Fall provides that in rollicking, sweet, and heartbreaking doses.
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